Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Stagnation, futility, and silliness

Updated 9/7

"Why did God put Barack Obama on this earth?" asks David Brooks, but (luckily) he doesn't really want to know. He wants to know how Obama would answer the question, in an elevator speech, which is not analogous to elevator shoes, or to elevator music, but rather means a sales pitch so concise that it's over by the time your interlocutor jumps out of the elevator (hands clapped over her ears, no doubt, and three stops too early).
Elevator Patent by Elisha Otis, 1861. From the Paul R. Williams Project.
He had such a pitch, once, Brooks believes:
Obama was here to heal our politics, to move us beyond the stale debates and the childish partisanship that lead to stagnation, futility and silliness.
This purpose did not survive contact with reality.
I guess not, stale debates and childish partisanship being virtually our whole life. Now he needs something new, and Brooks has some proposals, three to be exact:
  • A too cool, which would be doubling down on efforts to halt climate change, which Brooks feels would be "obtuse" in our present economic climate—sure, everybody loves polar bears, the Maldives, and wheat, but can we afford them?
  • A too hot, which is repairing the broken capitalist system, which Brooks thinks would not mobilize the "moderates", meaning I believe those who would have to pay if they capped the tax deduction on mortgage interest—it can't be that broken, for Pete's sake.
  • And a just-Brooksie right, namely adopting the Bowles-Simpson plan for cutting the deficit, which would be just as huge as the other two, and just as serious, and "would galvanize a new center-left majority" of practically everybody, in the most exciting coalition since John Anderson was elected president. Oh, wait.
So far this just looks like garden-variety concern trolling, but it you look at it in the wider context of all Brooks's recent writing, there's something bigger going on.

What it is, I think, is that growing realization, as I said before, that Edmund Burke would be voting for Obama this year, and that Brooks, if he is to have any intellectual honesty, will have to do the same.  Not because Obama is a conservative, which he isn't, but because he's not revolutionary, nihilist, bomb-throwing, as those other guys are: he's a progressive conservatives need not fear (it'll just sting a bit when you sign that check to the IRS, and only those get asked that can clearly afford it).

Brooks doesn't know it himself yet, but he is marching through the stages of grief. First it was denial, in the remarkable "Prisms" column, when he talked himself into seeing Romney as a sort of Obama and Obama as a kind of Romney, so that voting for Romney might still make some kind of sense; then anger, when he started bad-mouthing first Paul Ryan, then Romney himself.

Now it's bargaining, as he begs Obama to give him some ground: please, support just one really dreadful policy, so I don't feel like an idiot.

So we've got two to go, hysteria and apathy if I'm not mistaken (just kidding). I'll keep you posted.
Elevator design by Konrad Kyeser, 1405. From Wikipedia.

He's still bargaining:
The country that exists is not on the right track. It has a completely dysfunctional political system. What was there in this speech that will make us think the next few years will be any different? America will only be governable again if there is a leader who breaks the mold and reframes the debate. Romney is unlikely to do that, and Obama’s speech didn’t offer much either.
He has no expectations of Romney, and can barely bring himself to mention him. But can he vote at all?


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